The Trouble With Wilderness

I wrote a (fucking) long article on William Cronon’s essay, The Trouble With Wilderness, over at the JA Blog, but I didn’t really want to go into the way it affected me personally there.  His line about how, “By imagining that our true home is in the wilderness, we forgive ourselves the homes we actually inhabit,” really struck home.  I realized it when I first read the piece, but it hit me even more the following day when we were given an intro to the rare books section of the library.

I was flipping through old guidebooks to Yosemite, and I realized that I have always felt a profound connection to the place.  I haven’t even been there, that’s the really bad part.  I was looking through these pamphlets, thinking about how I’d like to go, and I remembered that all of the campgrounds would be booked for the spring at this point.  That annoys me, because I have always assumed that I have a “deeper” connection to to the wilderness than these “other” people.

What Cronon has forced me to realize is that I don’t.  All of us are deluded in imagining our deep connection to the wilderness.  Sure, there’s a primal, visceral reaction you get, and I still love wild places and beautiful views, but I had fallen prey to that sense of being at home in the wild that Cronon describes.  That isn’t a healthy or a productive perspective to have.  I very much live in a modern, commercial, paved world, and to deny that reality is to abdicate responsibility for both my actions and the actions of those around me.

That’s a big responsibility.  There’s no running into the wild.  I guess McCandless should have read Cronon.

It’s a really painful realization, honestly.  But it’s also good, because it means that we have to do everything we can to reconcile the way we live with nature, and that’s where architecture comes in.  I was telling Char, I’m so glad I decided to switch from Environmental Policy (I wanted to save wilderness) to architecture.  Good move.

It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with this, though.


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